Where, Oh, Where Is Congress?

April 20, 1994|By GEORGE F. WILL

WASHINGTON — Washington.--The slovenly, lethal improvisation of U.S. policy regarding the Balkan civil war has made the U.S. morally complicit in carnage while remaining politically impotent and militarily inconsequential. This wreckage of feeble intentions may at least demolish the notion that the United Nations can be a surrogate for U.S. self-determination, or a repository for U.S. sovereignty, or a substitute for a U.S. president.

The U.N.'s fatuous proclamation of ''safe havens'' is mere diplomatic noise. Many cruelties have been inflicted on Bosnians, whose misfortune it is to be in the path of the creation of ''Greater Serbia.'' Among those cruelties is the U.N.'s pretense that it can play a role for which it is incurably unsuited, that of peacemaker. There will be no peace until Serbia's appetite for conquest has been slaked, or until Serbia's victims have arms sufficient to produce stalemate.

When President Bush was asked why the arms embargo should not be lifted so that Serbia's victims could defend themselves or die resisting, he flippantly replied that the trouble in the Balkans was not an insufficiency of weapons. Nor, in the same way, was that the trouble when Germany crushed the Jewish rising in the Warsaw ghetto.

Mr. Bush's secretary of state, James Baker, said of the Balkan civil war that ''we don't have a dog in that fight.'' But we now are a bewildered dog in that fight, although we deny we are in it and we continue to defer to those who are holding our leash and pulling us deeper in.

A Japanese diplomat named Akashi, representing an Egyptian civil servant named Boutros-Ghali who is hired by the governments represented in the United Nations, decided, with a British general named Rose, that U.S. aircraft assigned to NATO would drop a few bombs on inconsequential targets. The investment of U.S. prestige was inversely proportional to the force involved, and the exercise was of a fecklessness not seen since the Bay of Pigs. Where, one wonders, is Congress?

During the Cold War, the presidency acquired a constitutionally anomalous independence regarding foreign policy, but Congress constantly skirmished with presidents about involvement in decisions about uses of force. Now that the hair-trigger U.S.-Soviet standoff has passed, Congress could prudently, and in accord with constitutional assumptions, become more assertive.

This president does not disguise the fact that he would rather be, and usually is, thinking of things other than foreign policy. His lack of interest has translated into a casual willingness for U.S. force, military and moral, to be tangled up in lines of authority (Akashi, Boutros-Ghali, Rose) resembling linguine.

His desire to keep America distant from a civil war -- a war America might not be able to influence without an investment of force and prestige disproportionate to America's interests -- is defensible. But his indefensible pretense that America must be a mere partner of that moral cipher, the United Nations, which pretends to represent that political fiction called ''the world community,'' is producing the entanglement the president wants to avoid.

Ejup Ganic, Bosnia's vice president, says to Americans, ''You have to reverse the results of ethnic cleansing if you want a stable peace . . . [Otherwise] you might send your troops one day to keep results of ethnic cleansing.'' If the United States is called upon to keep its promise to send thousands of soldiers for ''peacekeeping,'' it will indeed wind up ratifying the results of Serbia's war crimes.

Enforcing a peace produced by Serbian brutality is unappetizing; doing what Bosnia's government wants is unthinkable. Mr. Ganic says that until land seized by Serbia is returned to Serbia's victims, his government cannot sign a peace pact. Asked if he was asking NATO to ''reverse Serbian conquests'' because his government lacks sufficient military force to do so, he says: ''You took that force from us because you introduce an arm embargo on Bosnia; you put our hands tied and you create this outcome. Either reverse the outcome or give us weapons we can do by ourself.''

If U.S. forces someday participate in patrolling a partitioned Bosnia, the lines of partition should reflect some results of armed Bosnian self-defense rather than merely the satiation of Serbia's appetite for conquest over people whose crippled capacity for self-defense is a casualty of a lunatic notion of ''even-handedness'' that only the U.N. could consider just and only a president in full flight from responsibility could cling to.

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

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